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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Coffee: an affordable luxury

What’s a fair price for a cup of coffee? Well, if it’s International Roast at the church fete, then 3.5 cents is about right. But if it’s hotel room-service after a 20 hour flight without a decent cup, then $2000 is probably quite reasonable.

But seriously, for those of us who enjoy the caffeinated bliss that is coffee, it can become an expensive habit. Even a moderate two cappucinos a day from the coffee shop will burn through $25 per week easy – that’s $1250 a year! And if your habit stretches to several cups a day, well, the sky’s the limit.

So, what can you do to save some dollars without missing out on the good stuff?
  • No chain-store espressos. Sorry, but with a floor price of about $3.00 for a standard cup, Starbucks and Gloria Jean’s just don’t offer value. Take the trouble to find a local barista who will get to know you and make you a $2.00 or $2.50 cup just the way you like it. They will remember you and always give you the exact froth, temperature and strength you like. But even then, limit yourself to one take-away a day, and try to have at least one free-day a week. That way, you’ll appreciate your tailor-made treat even more.
  • Don’t buy a home-espresso machine. Look, there’s nothing wrong with these machines generally. Most of them can make a decent cup. But the reality is they just don’t save you money in the long run. For a start, there’s hundreds of dollars to buy the thing. And then, they use a LOT of coffee – at least $1 worth per cup. So you’d have to drink hundreds of cups to save back the price of purchase, and unless you have the skills of a barista, you’re still not going to get the froth, strength and temperature that your local Luigi can provide.
  • Take the plunge. Really, plungers are the best balance for home use. They yield 3 big mugs of strong, hot coffee using about 70c worth of raw materials. They're foolproof, consistent and easier to keep clean than an espresso-maker. Tasty tip: When the kettle’s boiled, wait a minute or two before pouring the water into the plunger. Any barista will tell you the ideal water temperature for coffee-making is around 89-92 degrees celsius – so remember; let the kettle settle before you pour.
  • Store your coffee right: Don’t freeze your fresh coffee! Home freezers evapourate the essential oils that make coffee smell and taste so great. If it’s in the freezer, you’re losing the wonderful aroma and flavour that you’ve paid good money for! Store it in an airtight, light-proof container in a cool, dry place that is protected from high temperature fluctuations. That way, you’ll get the full value of your luxury purchase.
  • Try a local roaster. As a rule of thumb, the closer your coffee is roasted to where you drink it, the fresher it will taste. The big-name coffee brands like Lavazza, Vittoria, Harris and so on are all fine, but the fact is they are roasted at one place and then shipped all over the country.

    If you can find a little roasting-house near you, give them a try. You will probably find they can do a blend that is just right for you, and you can expect to pay about 20% less than the store brands, because a local roaster doesn't have the same distribution and packaging costs.

    Where do you find them? Well, they won't be in your supermarket, but visit your local greengrocer or delicatessen, as you may well find they stock coffees that were roasted in a suburb near you!
  • Junkies need an instant fix. OK, this one is for serious addicts only. There are some decent instant coffees around, and if you drink more than 4 cups a day, they will save you serious money. My suggestion is, after you hit your one-espresso or one-plunger limit, switch to instant for the rest of the day. If you’re buying instant, buy a top-shelf blend such as Moccona’s “Indulgence” range, because it’s near-cafe standard, and you’re saving so much with instant that you can afford the best. They’re about $8-$9 for a 100gm tin, and they yield dozens and dozens of cups.

Gotta go now, my hands are shaking...

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MC Hammer: You can't read this.

A little off-topic, but The Bargain Queen had to share this:

Ohmigod, MC Hammer has a blog! Wow, this blogging thing really is big!

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Who hates IKEA?

The Bargain Queen has a love-hate relationship with IKEA. On the one hand, they have some great stuff at very reasonable prices. The storage solutions above have The Bargain Queen drooling into her keyboard, LOVE beautiful wardrobes!

On the other hand, some of their stuff is really poor quality, and they're so annoyingly well-marketed that everyone I know ends up buying the same stuff, like the Morker work lamp:

For $9 it's a great buy, but it doesn't seem as cool when you can walk into almost anyone's house and say "I've got that lamp too!".

The Bargain Queen does, however, love the Hej tealight holders she bought there:

These sit in The Bargain Queen's dining room, right next to the Ittala Ballos they're 'inspired by':

The Bargain Queen LOVES high-low mixing, and the Ballos look even more stunning with their miniature IKEA friends around them.

And lastly, The Bargain Queen is kicking herself for not having noticed the Lingo storage boxes sooner:

So pretty! And at $7 for the pair, these are cheaper than the fabric The Bargain Queen bought to cover some plain boxes with, which still need to be done. Still, The Bargain Queen's handmade ones will be completely unique, so she won't see them in every other house she visits.

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The secret of style. No, really.

Being stylish isn't just about buying attractive things. If you want to be really stylish, it definitely helps to be an interesting person, to have a point of view, to be a little bit different than everyone else. If you find your life dull, it's pretty unlikely anyone else will be enthralled by it.

There's no exact formula for becoming interesting and different - how could there be? - but doing something cool definitely helps. If you're thinking of changing some things in your life, New York Metro has a special called Your New Life Begins Here. The Bargain Queen's favourite articles:

Monday, February 27, 2006

Smart shopping is, well, smart

The Bargain Queen is convinced that smart shopping is a smart thing to do, and gets very annoyed with the stereotype that all women who are interested in shopping are bimbos. It's a rational, intelligent response to a world brimming with consumer choices, to survey and compare those choices regularly.

Every day, we see stacks of advertisements encouraging us to buy the latest and greatest stuff. Here's three possible responses to seeing all those beautiful things:
  1. Go out and buy the lot, credit card be damned!
  2. Learn to ignore them and be content with the things you have already
  3. Become a smart shopper so you can keep to your budget and still have nice things
Now which do you think are the intelligent responses?

The Bargain Queen, who isn't rich enough to buy everything that catches her eye, uses a mix of being happy with what she has and smart shopping for the things she needs, to live well and stay within budget. There are many gorgeous things on the glossy magazine pages that The Bargain Queen doesn't actually have any use for, so it's relatively easy to ignore them. There are also things that sound brilliant, except they would lead inevitably to bankruptcy. Think private jets, couture outfits and $60,000 dining tables.

On the other hand, The Bargain Queen does need a winter jacket and has a reasonable budget for it. That money could be spent on the first thing that fits the bill, or with some more shopping around, it could stretch to something beautiful and top-quality on sale. Or one might turn up at an op shop or market, allowing The Bargain Queen to use most of that money for other things. Or even better, she might even find one for FREE! It is possible if you know where to look.

So what's so dumb about knowing what's available, how much it costs and where to get it? Being interested in clothes is perceived as shallow, vain, superficial and dumb, when it actually takes serious smarts to be stylish without much money. There are arcane skills and specialised knowledge involved, like knowing if a fabric's good quality, if that skirt makes your ass look big or if a trend's almost over. As far as The Bargain Queen's concerned, smart shopping is one of a set of intelligent responses to living in a consumerist world.

There'll be more on this later, so stay tuned!

When is a bargain not a bargain?

Kiss Me Stace wrote a great post about unflattering prints, which really got The Bargain Queen thinking.

The Bargain Queen generally doesn't like lists of fashion dos and don'ts, because they change all the time, they're unfair and because the exceptionally stylish ALWAYS break some rules, so the best you can become by following the rules is a fashion victim.

All that said, if The Bargain Queen had a definitive set of fashion rules, this would be at the top of the list:

Rule #1: Never buy anything unflatttering

(Rule #2: never let anyone give you unflattering things either. But not even The Bargain Queen knows how to enforce this, especially with cherished relatives and close friends...)

This probably sounds like the most obvious fashion rule possible, but before you stop reading, The Bargain Queen has a confession to make: it took her a really long time to learn this. For years, The Bargain Queen bought 'bargains' that made her look horrid - i.e. bargains that aren't. While this sounds like an incredibly dumb thing to do, it's actually an easy mistake to make. Having a bad day, being in a hurry or getting trapped by a lying mirror (or shop assistant) can all lead to very bad purchases, which harm both the budget and personal style.

For example, at a Zimmerman sample sale a few years ago, The Bargain Queen shared a communal changeroom with a very successful young model. Needless to say, the girl makes twigs look overweight, so she made The Bargain Queen look like a heifer. In a fit of "Of course it makes me look huge, I'm a bloody hippopotamus", The Bargain Queen came away with:
  • black pants that made her legs look like over-stuffed sausages,
  • a black skirt that created a rounded belly out of The Bargain Queen's hard-won washboard, and
  • a beautiful purple skirt that not only added inches to the belly and wobble to the thighs, but also made the butt appear to drop a few inches.
This tied up a substantial portion of The Bargain Queen's clothes budget in things that she didn't want to wear. While these all sounded like fantastic deals on paper - good-quality classic garments at 75% off - they were actually one of The Bargain Queen's dumbest ever purchases.

They did, however, teach The Bargain Queen an important lesson:

When you look horrible in your clothes, blame the clothes.

These beauties perfectly illustrated how much difference the right cut, colour and fabric makes, even on classic items. And thankfully, it wasn't too expensive a lesson in the end. The Bargain Queen saw sense a few weeks later and too them all to a consignment store, where she got most of her money back.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

I drank a $7 bottle of wine and kept my sanity.

The Bargain Queen is looking on the bright side of Australia's wine glut, and that bright side is fantastic cheap cleanskin wines. (For readers who aren't wine buffs, a cleanskin wine is bottled without the winery's name on it. When demand for wine is high, they're often crap that noone will admit to making, but when supply outstrips demand, some very drinkable wine is sold this way.)

The Bargain Queen and Mr Bargain Queen were recently in Melbourne to visit family and stopped by Prahran Markets for some yummy food. They also discovered 6J's Wine Merchants. This shop is brilliant! To start with, they gave the kind of old-fashioned, helpful customer service that The Bargain Queen rarely finds anywhere. They provided plenty of wines and glasses for tasting, plus a price list and reasonable delivery charges for interstate customers. The shopkeeper offered to create a mixed case specifically to Mr & Mrs Bargain Queen's tastes, and managed to make this offer without creating any purchasing pressure!

But more importantly, The Bargain Queen likes the wines. After trying two or three, we settled on a Murray Valley merlot... for $6.99 a bottle! Now you never get Grange for that money, but you also don't often get something drinkable. This wine was miles from the petrol/dishwater hybrid The Bargain Queen expects for $7 a bottle, and compares favourably to many $12+ bottles we've tried. As a day-to-day drinking wine, it's a nice earthy accompaniment for the vegies and dips we ate with it.

If you like a glass of wine with dinner as much as The Bargain Queen does, it's a great time to try some cleanskins and find a drop that's friendly to both the budget and the palate. Cheers!

Is style anti-fashion?

Luck and Milk's post on the high cost of fashion got The Bargain Queen thinking today:
As I admire my closet full of clothes, shoes, and accessories, all ridiculously priced for a nation who's median household income is $18,000 short of the Jimmy Choo Crocodile skin handbag asking price featured on the glossy pages of Vogue, I cringe shamefully. "Are these frivilous things worth my hard earned paycheck?"

It's so ridiculous how a fabulous life requires priding onself in keeping up with The Joneses, when in the corporate side of the blindingly superficial bourjois me-want-this and me-want-that limelight, The Joneses are just slick ads paid for by money hungry, balding executives whose paychecks are courtesy of our cravings.

Fashion is a label, a brand. Style is not a look but an essence of its own, the answer to how a $563 outfit from Bergdorfs looks drab on one, but somehow a similar $25 top at Macy's looks sensational on another.
This pretty neatly sums up something The Bargain Queen has given a lot of thought to: the difference between fashion and style.

As Luck and Milk says, fashion is something we're sold. It exists to drive the textile manufacturing industry, so we replace clothes that are still perfectly functional simply because they're 'out of style'. But this isn't about to turn into a socialist rant about fashion being evil, so we should all wear compulsory uniforms instead. (How hideous!)

Viewed the right way, fashion serves up a new set of possibilities each season and is a huge amount of fun. There's trying on new stuff, making faces at the things that look hideous, being thrilled when something looks amazing and making fun of the truly hideous things that exceptionally talented designers come up with, among other fashion-related thrills. But there's also that feeling of sinking inadequacy that comes from drooling over beautiful things you can't have and fantasising a life where you could.

To The Bargain Queen, style is the ability to navigate through the choices fashion offers and consistently choose things that suit you, your lifestyle, your budget and your tastes. Style is the thing that separates the fabulous from the fashion victim. The Bargain Queen could talk forever on this topic but she has to go have dinner with her in-laws, but stay tuned for a whole lot more!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Salmon dinner for two. $7.50

This is the story of how one day I set out to make fish stock, and ended up with a surprise dinner for two of fresh salmon – for less than $7.50!

The Bargain Queen and I were at the fish markets one Sunday, looking for a distinctly un-bargainish lunch, when we got the inspiration to make some fish stock. Sitting in a great big tub were the freshly-filleted remains of some giant Tasmanian salmon – so we picked one up for $2.99 and brought it home.

What did we get for our $2.99? Over a metre length of fresh salmon head & tail and the flesh all along the spine, which remains after you have cut off the fillets. Sound appetising? Well no, it sounds revolting (and looks worse) – but little did we know what a transformation it would go through once we got the fish stock underway!

So into a pot of cold water went our salmon (sans eyes, ugh), plus all the usual fish stock goodies – about $4 worth of onion, carrot, celery & sea salt. As per the recipe, we brought it to a slow simmer for 30 minutes, skimmed it and reserved the stock.

What was left in the pot was a giant bit of cooked salmon. I flaked a little meat of the spine to try it, fully expecting it to taste like bland goop. To my surprise and delight, it was firm, juicey and full of salmony deliciousness!

So I ended up flaking the whole lot off the bone. This only took 2 minutes, since it was so thoroughly and gently simmered, the flesh just fell off the bone.
That one bony-looking salmon yielded enough cooked, boneless, skinless, flaked flesh to make a couple of huge salmon sandwiches – or, in our case, it added a lovely dimension to our vegie stir-fry that night.

And the fish stock? I’d love to report that we froze it and made batch after batch of delicious risottos, sauces and casseroles with it, but, in the end, we got lazy and tossed it. My bad.

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Winter wardrobe; Excuse to wear sexy boots.

The Bargain Queen had a wander around the shops today, to see the the new winter stock that's just come in. Believe it or not The Bargain Queen does buy things full-priced sometimes; she just does here research first. The priorities at the moment are jackets and boots, since The Bargain Queen's wardrobe lacks both these things.

So here's what The Bargain Queen's crazy about for winter:

David Jones have these Marc Jacobs rain boots in blue for $240. The Bargain Queen seriously needs some rain boots and these would be fantastic. If the ones above on eBay were The Bargain Queen's size, she would totally be bidding on them!

Cue had some cute knock-offs of the fabulous Roland Mouret Galaxy dress, although it's not really The Bargain Queen's style so this hot trend will be left for someone else. The whole store is full of stuff that's amazing on curvy girls (which The Bargain Queen isn't).

Kookai had two great jackets, one in midnight blue velvet and one in bright blue cotton for $219 each. The Bargain Queen doesn't have single blazer that fits right now, so one of these could be brilliant. Although Kookai's clothes don't usually fit The Bargain Queen unfortunately, so hopefully there'll be something similar elsewhere.

There was also a cute top in Supre, which The Bargain Queen will think about and maybe go back for. The Bargain Queen has stacks of tops, so it's hard to justify any more, although this one's a very different style to anything else in her wardrobe.

Overall The Bargain Queen's thrilled with winter's structured, feminine clothes. The Bargain Queen hated boho - she looks like an elephant in flounces - so it's great to see seriously sexy clothing back in the stores!

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How to keep your hobby without going broke.

The Bargain Queen was in Lincraft today (an Australian craft supplies chain store) and found some great bargains she's going the share with you.

Firstly, the price of cross stitch kits has really come down from a few years ago. The Bargain Queen has a real soft spot for cross stitch (memories of growing up in the country) and is thrilled that it's now a reasonably priced hobby. Especially tempting are a 5" x 7" butterfly design that was $5 for the kit and a 4" x 4" Sturt's Desert Pea design for $8. There were also needlepoint kits for $2 and a cute little cross stitch prawn for $3. Gorgeous!

Secondly, the scrapbooking albums were a LOT cheaper than at Kmart. The Bargain Queen isn't especially into scrapbooking - too fussy-looking - but a $12 acid-free album with a cute striped cover is a great deal for someone else.

Lastly, it's not a bargain, but they have knitting nancies for $10! They're incredibly cute but The Bargain Queen has no idea what she's make with one. Perhaps some hideous placemats like the ones she made as a kid?

She bought nothing today, but The Bargain Queen has worked out there and three spare 5" x 7" frames sitting in the house waiting for some gorgeous cross stich, so she'll be back soon.

Why pay for puzzles?

The Bargain Queen is totally addicted to sudoku, to the point that Mr Bargain Queen thinks it's a bit unhealthy (but what would he know?). If every sudoku The Bargain Queen completed had been purchased in one of those cute little books, she would be completely broke by now. Or probably even in debt.

But thankfully, The Bargain Queen stumbled across the London Times' Interactive Su Doku puzzles and does them online for free instead!

They're also in the Sydney Morning Herald, but you have to buy the paper to get them. Qantas and JetStar inflight magazines have them too, so they're free if you've already got a plane ticket. Or if you must buy a book, the airport is the worst place to get them. If you can stop at a regular newsagent beforehand, you'll pay about $4 instead of $10, and every little bit counts.

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Are 'economical' appliances a crock?

The Bargain Queen tries to do the right thing environmentally, without making herself miserable in the process. But sometimes, the 'right thing' really doesn't make a difference.

For example, our dishwasher: it's ten or fifteen years old, so the brand can go unnamed as they've hopefully improved. It has an 'eco' mode which supposedly saves water, electricity, money and fluffy bunnies. (OK, The Bargain Queen made up the bunnies.) But the eco mode does such a poor job of washing dishes that a third of them need a second wash to get clean. So overall, is that still better? Or is it worse? The Bargain Queen doesn't know, but she does get cranky putting the same dishes through twice.

So, environmentally unfriendly mode it is.

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Your Money Or Your Life

The Bargain Queen first read Your Money or Your Life about ten years ago, and it seriously changed her life. It's an extremely popular book and it deserves to be. It has a set of exercises to help you become more financially aware, and then shows you how to achieve financial independence (i.e. not having to work for money) without winning lotto.

To boil down some of the principles behind their program:

Enough is better than a feast... because it doesn't give you indigestion. They graph a 'fulfillment curve' to show the more stuff makes you happier when you have nothing - because being cold, hungry and naked really sucks. But when you already have too much, getting more stuff makes you unhappy. (For The Bargain Queen, 'too much' was when her study was so full of miscellaneous useless crap she had no space and worked on the dining table instead!) They argue convincingly that knowing how much is enough (basic needs plus the luxuries that really matter to you) is the key to feeling happy about your stuff.

You only get one life... and the more of it you trade for money to spend on random crap you don't really need, the less time you have to do the things that really matter to you, whatever they are. They show that trading your life for money can be a dissatisfying way to live, because once you have enough, buying more won't make you any happier.

Spending less allows you to save more... by eliminating unnecessary and unfulfilling spending, ordinary people can save enough money to retire early and do what they'd really like.

The Bargain Queen's quick summary doesn't really do the book justice, so she strongly recommends reading it for yourself. You can get it on Amazone by following the links, or better yet, borrow it from your local library!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

How cheap can gardening be?

The Bargain Queen is a mad-keen gardener, but it used to be an expensive hobby. Mostly, The Bargain Queen would fall in love with a lush, gorgeous plant at the local nursery, pay $20 for it, take it home, plant it, think how lovely it looked, and then watch it die over the next few days/weeks/months. That's (mostly) in the past now, and The Bargain Queen's wallet is far happier for it.

Here's The Bargain Queen's tips for having a great garden on a budget:

Know your soil. Improve your soil.
It's easy to see all soil as a pile of dirt. Not so! It's actually a delicate balance of sand, clay, humus and a whole bunch of other stuff. Who knew? Where The Bargain Queen lives, most of the soil is dry, sandy, lacking in nutrients and doesn't hold water well. Some plants love sandy soil and will thrive in it; others will shrivel up and die. The Bargain Queen's still learning which are which, but when in doubt, adding compost and moss seems to sort things out. And worms are also good.

Get free plants!
The Bargain Queen LOVES other people's rejected plants. A throwaway plant has usually been so neglected that some new soil, a splash of water and a drop of fertiliser make it feel incredibly pampered. So where does The Bargain Queen find these free plants?
  • Compost. Seriously, The Bargain Queen has some great food plants that came up in the compost. For example, some tomato seedlings popped up a few months ago and are now over a metre tall. They haven't flowered yet, let alone fruited, but they smell amazing. Plus there's great snob value in showing off a herb garden complete with tomatoes.
  • Food scraps. One step before compost, is fresh off-cuts from the kitchen. The Bargain Queen recently discovered that you can eat most of a shallot, plant the bottom 10cm in the garden (i.e. the bit with the roots), and in a couple of weeks there's a whole new shallot. Genius! They just grow all by themselves, clever plants.
  • The side of the road. No, The Bargain Queen doesn't pull plants out of other people's gardens (although cuttings aren't illegal, are they?). But when a horribly neglected house plant sits amongst a pile of junk, The Bargain Queen sees a hardy new addition to her garden. Unless it's ugly, in which case, off to landfill it goes ;)
  • Around apartment buildings. For some bizarre reason, many discarded plants end up sitting around apartment buildings, waiting to die in their too-small pots. Obviously not all plants around apartments are abandoned, but when a friend living in the block assures me that the plant has been all alone for all the years they've lived there, The Bargain Queen decides to adopt.
  • Freecycle. This is the coolest thing on earth: people giving away their 'old junk' to others who desperately need exactly that thing. The Bargain Queen has given away furniture, computer bits, lamps and a bunch of other stuff. She's gained a 1.5m variegated ficus for her front yard, bush rocks for all the garden beds and a few non-plant things too. And they were all free!
  • Friends and family. There are a whole bunch of reasons your friends and family might contribute to your garden, none of which involve black mail or theft. If anyone you know is an avid gardener, they may be thrilled to share their hobby with you. Ask them nicely to strike a cutting of one of their plants and see what happens! Alternatively, if you hear that someone's leaving town, see if they intend to take their plants with them. The Bargain Queen has a bunch of plants on loan from backpacking friends, and a couple more from people who've moved away. Or if you'd like something specific, mention it next time someone asks what you'd like for your birthday / Christmas / engagement present. Just be more careful than The Bargain Queen, who killed the gorgeous succulents her mother-in-law gave her...
As for super-cheap sources of plants:
  • Church fetes. These aren't necessarily the kind of plants you want - real gardeners pamper their plants almost as much as nurseries, so five minutes of neglect kills the damn things. But if it's the end of the day and everyone wants to go home, a big box of plants and half an hour's gardening advice can be had for $5.
  • eBay. Occasionally people list their unwanted plants on eBay. Noone buys plants on eBay though, so they tend to go for great prices.
  • Nursery bargain bins. Big nurseries sometimes sell their distressed stock super-cheaply. The Bargain Queen specialises in the hardy indoor plants that have had a few hours' direct sun and have almost no leaves. She also usually falls in love with something expensive at the nursery too though, so she's only allowed to visit occasionally.
And once you've got great free plants in healthy soil...

Water the darn things!
I know, duh, but The Bargain Queen forgets and next thing, $100 worth of ferns have turned into shrivelled little twigs. The occasional dose of fertiliser seems to help too.

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Save money on your mobile phone

Mr Bargain Queen has some mobile phone tips for you...

If you think your mobile phone is costing you too much, you're probably right. Most people are paying more on their phone bill than 12 months ago. (Fortunately, Mrs Bargain Queen has always used her mobile sensibly and never had a big blow-out on her bill. Ever.)

So what can you do to cut the cost?

I've found an Australian site called PhoneChoice which lets you compare different plans, based on your individual calling pattern. It's a great way to find out if you're paying too much.

For starters, do you know the per-30 second call rate on your plan? It really does matter! Rates vary from a tiny 9c to a terrifying 66c per 30 seconds.

For the single Bargain Shopper, a capped plan can work out cheaper than using your landline. Some people have had their monthly bill slashed from around $250 to $79 on a capped plan – that'll save over $2000 (a flight to Paris) each year!

But to save money, don't just following the herd. Everyone is different, and what works for others might not suit you. The Mobile section of has a Bill Calculator where you can enter the details of your last phone bill. It will compare your calling pattern against more than 1,000 mobile plans, and rank them in order of cost.

Well worth a look - and the site has a 'tips & tricks' section with lots of other Bargain Phone ideas.

I really should tell Mrs Bargain Queen about this one, but I'll have to text her - she's on the phone...

Mr Bargain Queen comes out of the closet

Hi everyone, this is Mrs Bargain Queen’s other half, Mr Bargain Queen.

I’m her best-kept secret, but while she’s out bargain-hunting, I’m allowed out of my closet to stretch my legs and post new tips for you on how to save money.

A little about Mr Bargain Queen:

  • He's 31
  • He lives with Mrs Bargain Queen in Sydney, Australia
  • He makes a living as a marketer and advertiser
  • He’s half-way though a teaching degree in languages (English and Japanese)
  • He’s good with money

And my first money-saving tip for you? Always switch off your closet light (and other lights) while you’re out!

Setting eBay starting bids

The Bargain Queen LOVES eBay. Two or three times a year The Bargain Queen has a big wardrobe clean-out, and a lot of the culled clothing finds great new homes on there. While it's not big money by any stretch, it's very satisfying to buy a cute top on sale for $30, wear it twice, then sell it on eBay for $28.50.

As a recovered eBay addict, there's very little that happens on eBay that The Bargain Queen doesn't know about. Recently though, The Bargain Queen has tried to become more systematic in her eBay research, to see if she might make a little more money from it.

Now eBay can be a confusing, nonsensical place, so figuring out how to maximise returns isn't always easy. For example, The Bargain Queen recently listed a ten pieces of clothing for 99c starting bid each, to see what would happen. It was a disaster. After taking into account postage, eBay fees and PayPal fees, there was only $6.37 profit on the whole lot! But by re-listing a skirt that didn't sell for 99c for a $5 starting bid, The Bargain Queen sold it for $5 and will make over $3.50 profit. Not enough to retire on, but at least it covers what the skirt cost in the op shop!

So this is what The Bargain Queen's worked out so far:
  • 'Name brand' items sell for far more on eBay than no-name items. This applies for chain store brands as well as designer labels.
  • Desirable branded items (like Marc Jacobs shoes or Gucci perfume) with high starting bids are less likely to sell, but when they do, they go for higher prices than those that started at lower prices. Often the difference isn't big (say $5); but if you're running an eBay business, every bit counts.
  • Within the lower price range that chain-store brands and vintage items attract, a higher starting bid counterintuitively makes the item more desirable and more likely to sell. Perhaps seeing a higher pricetag convinces buyers the item's worth more; perhaps buyers browse through higher-priced items first; or perhaps a low starting bid looks too good to be true, which on eBay usually means it is.
The Bargain Queen's running some more eBay experiments in the coming weeks, and will report back with the results.

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Welcome Mr Bargain Queen!

The Bargain Queen blog has a new occasional guest blogger: Mr Bargain Queen. While The Bargain Queen is the expert in retail and anything requiring practical skills, Mr Bargain Queen is the one you want to talk to when there's fine print involved. Everyone needs a Mr Bargain Queen to sort out their health insurance, phone bills, investments, getting removed from mailing lists, etc. etc. While there is only one Mr Bargain Queen and he is strictly taken, The Bargain Queen will magnanimously allow him to share a few tips with the rest of the world.

Welcome Mr Bargain Queen!

Why $15 is too much for a bloke's haircut

A few months ago, The Bargain Queen got cranky with the sub-standard $15 haircuts Mr Bargain Queen was getting and decided to learn to do it herself. We bought a $30ish hair clipper, and every haircut since then has been free. But it wasn't until The Bargain Queen found this post on Frugal Focus that we tallied up our savings:
Estimating $12/haircut/month this also allows me to save about $432 annually in hair cut costs for me and my two young sons. Less the annual clipper set (~$40) and I'm still ahead about $390/year.
Our saving is more like $150/year, since only Mr Bargain Queen's hair meets the clippers. (The Bargain Queen herself will never skimp on highlights. Never!) Still, that's enough for one very nice dinner out each year, and more importantly, Mr Bargain Queen's hair is now acceptable at all times. Why pay someone to send your husband home with unevenly trimmed hair? Madness!

As an aside, the Frugal Focus guy calls that haircut the 'I give up' and suggests it is the sole province of balding men. The Bargain Queen would like it noted that Mr Bargain Queen still has a full, luxuriant head of boofy Jewish hair. The 'I give up' was not chosen to minise the difference in appearance between his bald and hirsute patches. Rather, it's the only low-maintenance haircut that keeps Mr Bargain Queen from looking like a circus clown in a business suit. Enough said.

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Flea control: don't get bitten

Speaking of Queen Kitty, the adorable little munchkin has been having the usual summer flea problems. (Queen Kitty's dignity will never be the same now the world knows she's cheap and has fleas. The Bargain Queen is an inconsiderate kitty-mummy.)

Flea treatment can be so expensive that The Bargain Queen thought, "there has to be a better way" and did some comparison shopping. This is what she found out:
  • At the local Westfield shopping mall pet store, Revolution costs $50 for 3 months
  • At the vet, it costs $75 for 6 months
  • At, it costs $30.67 for 3 months or $57.77 for 6 months, plus $4.45 postage
Ordering online is only worthwhile though, if the order arrives quickly. After using vetshopaustralia twice, The Bargain Queen thinks they're brilliant. Each time, the products have arrived in 2-3 days, with no fuss at all.

You can guess where The Bargain Queen's getting her kitty products from now on!

Disclaimer: The Bargain Queen does not get paid for her recommendations, and reserves the right to withdraw them at any time if the recommendee makes her or any of her treasured readers cranky.

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Typos save you money...

The Bargain Queen is loving It automatically searches eBay for all the ways the name of something you want could be misspelt, to help you find auctions that won't show up in eBay's searches. Brilliant!

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Get in business for 100 bucks

Hello, Dollar! is a brilliant site, although it hasn't been updated for a while. The Bargain Queen especially loves their Ten Dollar Project: there's no cheaper way to start a business!

And on a related note, here's a great article called "The best business education: start your own business for under $100".

This is all a pretty new idea for The Bargain Queen. Working for big corporates and government give the impression that the only way to do anything in business is to throw money around and hope it works out. The shoestring method actually sounds pretty sensible though, so The Bargain Queen's giving it a try. Check back for updates!

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Tidy your room, save a fortune

The Bargain Queen keeps a (mostly) well-organised home. Why? Because it saves a stack of money! If you're skeptical, check out this great article on How Clutter Chases Money Away (via Frugal for Life):
  • Has your desk ever been so cluttered that you forgot to pay a bill and wasted cash on a late fee?
  • Has your cluttered purse caused you to forget to enter in a debit card purchase and you then overdrew your account?
  • Have you ever injured yourself in your own home when you tripped over "stuff" cluttering up walkways?
  • Have you ever bought something that you already owned, simply because you couldn't find the item in question?
  • Have you ever found overdue late library books or movie rentals under your messy car seats?
The Bargain Queen has done every single one of the dumb things on that list, and some other more creative ones too. In fact, she was once known for her slovenliness and disorganisation. Now, apart from a 'to do' stack in her office that's never fully done, The Bargain Queen keeps a reasonably organised house. And if The Bargain Queen can do that, so can you!

If you're not sure where to start there are some great tips in the article, and stay tuned for some of The Bargain Queen's own solutions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How we found our bargain kitty

Queen Kitty
This is Queen Kitty, the gorgeous chocolate Burmese who rules The Bargain Queen's house. Queen Kitty's company would be a bargain at any price, but thankfully for The Bargain Queen's wallet she came to us de-sexed, microchipped and with all her shots, for only $150! A total bargain compared to $300-450+ Burmese kittens in pet shops, but of course we fell in love with her personality not her pedigree ;)

Queen Kitty was cheap because she came to us via the NSW Animal Welfare League. She was given up by a breeder and was a 'special needs' cat. She had lived in a cage for most of her life so she wasn't properly socialised and she needed a lot of attention. We were her fifth home in six months.

In the world of retail, Queen Kitty was damaged goods; a reject. She was ready to be consigned to the 85% off rack, or possibly straight to the dumpster out the back. But to The Bargain Queen, a 'damaged' pet is far better value than the pristine ones in the pet stores. They're cheaper, sure, but more importantly you're doing a good deed adopting them. Which means a formerly-homeless pet gives you a big dose of the 'warm fuzzies' just for feeding and cuddling them. And they're so cute!

Queen Kitty is now a happy, well-adjusted house cat. It took months of patience and kindness to earn enough trust that she started doing normal kitty things, but each time she did something new we were thrilled with her progress all over again. The Bargain Queen is a besotted kitty-mummy and Queen Kitty has a loving home so this story ends with a happily-ever-after.

If you're looking for a pet, The Bargain Queen says an adorable homeless kitty or puppy is the best deal there is. They're cheap, they're super-cute, and saving the life of a big-eyed furball is guaranteed to make you feel great.

There are Animal Welfare League branches all over the place; Google "Animal Welfare League" and your city to find yours. Or if you'd like a pet that's completely free (until feeding time anyway!) try:

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Welcome to The Bargain Queen blog!

A little about The Bargain Queen:
  • she's 27
  • she lives in Sydney, Australia
  • she is married to a wonderful man called Mr Bargain Queen, who posts on this blog occasionally
  • she makes a living designing software and consulting, when her health permits
  • she is all about high style on a low budget
If there is a cheap way to get ANYTHING, she knows all about it. She's been financially independent from her parents since she was 15 and has always been well dressed, well fed and lived in nice places, no matter how tight the budget has been.

Most importantly, she's here to impart her Bargain Queen wisdom on YOU! If you've ever thought that designer wardrobe + gourmet food + inner city living + great interior decor = hideous credit card bill, The Bargain Queen is here to show you the cheaper way to have it all. Stay tuned for some great hints and tips!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Bargain Queen archives

The Bargain Queen's archives are arranged by topic and by date.

Archives by topic
Pick a topic to see all The Bargain Queen's articles on that subject:

These are kindly hosted at, so following a link will take you there.

Archives by date
To see all the posts from a particular month, choose from the list below:

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